Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where have all the flowers gone?

Growing up in the 60’s protest was part of my life. The songs of the great poet Dylan (not Thomas you …) were on our lips.

I mourn the demise of protest! It is not as if there are no injustices to protest today! Hell we are spoilt for choice!

So where is the flower of youth today? What has captured their attention that injustice is of less importance?

I could surmise that there has been an erosion of (forgive my use of the easy term) genuine Christian values. In the affluent west have we replaced morality with materialism? We have certainly become a more secular society.

Secularism has its merits, but it has had its unfortunate consequences. We no longer speak of a greater moral truth; rather we have replaced it with the ethic of self: “If it works for me that’s OK, as long as there is no direct harm for others”. The problem lies in “direct harm”. Perhaps it is the “now” society that blinds us of the consequence of our actions, perhaps we have perfected too cleaver a definition of “direct harm” - - sort of like “I did not have sex with ...” …. …. …. But then perhaps if our politicians had really got the message of the greater moral truth we would not have been protesting in the 60’s


With God on our side

Take the time to listen to Joan Baez sing the Dylan song “With God on our side” everyone who practices a religion should do so every once in while to keep their perspective.

It is clear to me that many atheists are anti-religious rather than genuinely having that feeling of certainty that there truly is no God. But why should they not disavow God in the face of heaped evidence of injustice, no worse war and inhuman treatment and atrocities committed by those with God on their side? It is not enough for Christians to squeak out that those committing the atrocities are not real Christians or real Muslims or whatever – after all Christ taught that we would be judged by our actions. It seems that there is a reluctance among some religious to speak out (I would prefer "scream out") in protest against evil perpetrated in the name of God. Perhaps they fear their denunciation will somehow undermine God’s truth or their faith or affiliation.

We have atheists to thank for questioning religion and the acts carried out “with God on our side” … and yes we should thank them if they cause us to question our religious beliefs, in the hope that the questioning leads us to really understand the underlying precepts of the great religions of the world. There is a God, we should love God and our neighbour as ourselves.

It is a real pity that the anti-religious tend to throw out the baby (God) with the bathwater (religion) and end up as atheists.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Damascus Road

What really happened to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Both Christians and atheists have expressed the view that his conversion could have been no more than an epileptic fit. What do you think?


Friday, July 13, 2007

Me intolerant?

Is intolerance the home of the misguided? I find it ironical that in climate which seems to revere individual rights intolerance is so rife. Political correctness is of course intolerant. So called “liberals” are often most intolerant of opposing views, just listen to a liberal politician. Atheist based religious intolerance is strongly evident around Christmas and Easter as they try to rid the world of an untruth and to free the population from the shackles of false belief (do I hear an echo of the Inquisition here?).

But my real question is why is intolerance thriving in an era when I thought we were trying to eliminate it – to honour the individual, democracy and freedom? – getting caught up in the spin am I?

My first reaction is to blame the media, of course. After all their influence has increased as they have become more pervasive. Also there is little doubt that parts the media are firmly aligned with various agendas. Consolidation of media ownership has also limited debate. But does all this explain an increased intolerance.

Perhaps there has not been a real move towards intolerance for intolerance sake – perhaps it is a defence. We are increasingly being spoon fed news and views at a superficial level. When last did you see a really good unbiased, in-depth, investigative doco on TV – and as for the magazine programmes …

So perhaps we are forming our opinions not on a solid base of our own reasoning, but rather on the opinions of others. If so we have little of substance with which to defend our views. So do we become intolerant of opposing views? Do we fear being shown up as suckers for some piece of “spin”?

There may be hope in the e-world with its ease of dissemination of opinion – this blog is an example. But perhaps the weakness of this medium lies in its very strength. There is too much information and opinion. It is not easy to find, often swamped by millions of hits in a Google search – I wonder if anyone will ever read this? Because of the proliferation of information the way we use the web for research can capture us. We tend to go to the top of the list of search results (= popular opinion), we tend to follow site links (= pools of similar thinking). This may lead us into the trap of being extremely well misinformed – and perhaps to believing we are right, after all we researched it thoroughly on the web! So if we are right, then they must be wrong. Well at this point what else can we do but make sure they are put right and while we are at it we should try to make sure they don’t spread their mistaken views. Of course we could just enter the debate and convince them of the merit of our argument, perhaps even accept that there are two sides here and one has to choose. No … that’s too hard and we really have to know what we are talking about.

Perhaps I should be more tolerant of intolerance.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Atheist argument - finely crafted, but lacking

In reality, the atheists have presented little by way of a case that there cannot be a God. The semantics is by its nature flawed. Consider the ‘Argument of Evil’ often cited as one of the most persuasive that God (but I note, not any God but a limited understanding of the Christian God) cannot exist. The argument is based on recognising the existence of evil and on the assumption that God is both omnipotent and benevolent.

Either God wants to abolish evil and cannot,

or he can but does not want to,
or he cannot and does not want to,
or lastly he can and wants to.

If he wants to remove evil, and cannot,
he is not omnipotent;
(and therefore not God, if God is omnipotent as defined)
If he can, but does not want to,
he is not benevolent;
(and therefore not God, if God is benevolent as defined)
If he neither can nor wants to,
he is neither omnipotent nor benevolent;
Finally if God can abolish evil and wants to,
how does evil continue exist?

This (and similar) argument seems to be used successfully by atheists to convert some religious to their creed. The problem with this argument is that it assumes absolute knowledge of the nature of God. It takes a simple fundamentalist view of God and the world, ascribing to God a narrow and simplistic set of emotions and “proves” by simple deduction that God cannot exist. What it in fact proves is that either the limited definitions of an omnipotent God or of a benevolent God are wrong or at least inappropriate, or if the definitions are right, then God cannot logically exist. It is an intellectually weak approach to ignore the possibility that the definitions are inappropriate, particularly since the definitions were chosen to support the argument they are used in. It argues that if God could eliminate evil but chose not to then God would not be benevolent and this would therefore be contrary to the nature of God so God cannot exist. The key assumptions that have to be proven for the above to be valid are that in order to be benevolent God would banish evil and that God is indeed benevolent as defined. I have not seen this argued even vaguely conclusively. But, if the definition is wrong what is the right definition or understanding of God? Well to date I have not found the definitive description of the exact nature and circumstance of God, but not knowing the answer has never been a good scientific reason for abandoning the question.

It is reasonable to ask theists if they have considered this question that apparently simply proves them wrong. A brief exploration of the Christian theist view (the easiest for me to access) shows that they seem to have no problem explaining that their God and evil are likely to co-exist. I understand that there are two threads to the Christian theist argument. Firstly that in Christian terms God created a society based on the exercise of freewill. To proscribe evil in that society would of course limit freewill. Further it can be argued that much of what we describe as evil is the result of inappropriate human exercise of free will. Besides, to me it seems irrational to contemplate a world with no evil – one could do anything and there would be no possibility of negative outcomes. Choice and the possibility of negative outcomes go hand in hand. So we have a conflicting choice for God to make around ‘benevolence’ – no freewill or no negative (evil) outcomes. Not a simple choice, but one that seriously challenges a simplistic concept of benevolence. The second thread, again referring to Christian teaching, is that Satan has been given rule on earth – this thread of argument does not work for me. One can take this literally, as fundamentalist Christians appear to, or one can be a bit more circumspect and try to understand it in context.

Evil, harm or horror, call it what you will, is the product either of misuse of freewill (clearly freewill creates the potential for evil) or the result of natural forces necessary for the working of a world subject to the laws of nature (fire burns). By permitting a world governed by natural laws which we seek to discover and given freewill to exercise that knowledge, evil is a very likely and on occasion the appropriate (or benevolent) outcome . We appear to have the freewill to make good or evil in our world. Looking around, we seem to stuffing it up with enthusiasm.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

So does God exist?

The interesting thing for me in the theist view is it implies that there is another world, subject to rules different from those that apply to this world. Such a world need not be subject to natural laws of physics as we know them, but could be metaphysical. It is here that I see the hub of the God debate. The fundamental argument around the existence of a God or Gods, is not the semantics around the definition of the character of such a God, but rather hinges on the existence of a world beyond that which is not necessarily manifest in our day-today physical existence. For the sake of simplicity I will refer to this other world a metaphysical realm.

The crux of the debate is the existence of a metaphysical realm, because if it exists, the existence of a supreme being, God or Gods (however the hierarchy turns out in that realm) is but a small and reasonably likely step. So does the metaphysical realm exist? On the one hand we have a lack of absolute scientific evidence that this realm exists, and on the other hand a large body of anecdotal evidence that it does. While a scientific approach would dismiss a theory proved to be wrong, in a true quest for knowledge we should be seeking an explanation for that which we cannot explain, rather than blindly saying if we can’t prove it exists, it does not. Indeed clinging to unpopular beliefs is the source of many of our greatest scientific discoveries. Certainly we do not yet have the knowledge to be certain of the existence of a metaphysical realm or not – and why should we?. We can’t prove it does exist, nor can we prove it does not exist, so we have to recognise the anecdotal evidence as all we have for now. After all, initially there was only anecdotal evidence that death camps existed under Hitler’s rule, but then …

Atheistic argument is that because of the wide diversity and sometimes contradictory opinion regarding the nature of God or the metaphysical realm amongst the religions they can’t all be right. Atheists argue that since they can’t all be right but they could all be wrong, they must therefore all be wrong. This seems to dispose of a good baby with some rather dubious bath water. Being true to the scientific method one should argue that there are many possible conclusions and that since a large body of people believe that there is a metaphysical realm complete with a supreme being (i.e. a God), but disagree on the nature of the realm and/or God, then there should be more exploration of the nature of the realm rather than dismissing it’s existence out of hand. This is indeed what modern theists appear to be doing, refining their view of who or what God is and how God fits into a metaphysical realm – a perfectly valid scientific thing to do. It is the proper scientific approach to the question.


Monday, July 9, 2007

It started at Easter time

Easter has been and gone amidst the usual cry of Christians claiming “the reason for season” and the anti-Christian lobby in full cry demanding the obliteration of everything religious from Easter. Claiming intellectual high ground atheists profess to have the answer and to be seeking an end to the mythical nonsense and a return to rationality. Did they have a point I asked myself? Atheism appears to have real appeal; it professes to be rational, logical and to embody the scientific method – it proves God does not exist. I had not thought much about people actually being right or wrong in their belief or not in God. Perhaps there really is an answer. Easter seemed like a good time to explore the atheists’ claims – it just took a bit longer than I thought.

What started out as a challenging intellectual quest for an answer, researching arguments around the existence or not of God, ended in the conclusion that it is actually matter of choice. A choice of how we weigh the arguments and evidence. In the final analysis, a choice of what we choose to believe. The atheist arguments, while presented as rational and logical are often little more than vain exercises in semantics. Atheist reasoning around the God question does not appear to hold true to the scientific method, drawing what seem to be inappropriate conclusions. The theist case structure is different. It does not seek absolute rational proof and relies in part on reasoning and in part on anecdotal evidence. Neither case is proven and a firm belief in either requires an act of faith.

I did not expect to emerge from my research really worried, but I am. There are elements within atheism that project a growing militant fundamentalism as scary as the worst of religious fundamentalism. Given their own way, militant fundamentalists on either side would see our liberty curtailed and knowledge managed by their own “thought police”. Reading some of the extreme atheist rhetoric it is not hard to imagine the return of the excesses of the inquisition or ‘the cultural revolution’ and their repression of religious groups. Perhaps I was naïve, I thought atheists stood for intellectual freedom, freedom of speech and association - clearly many do not.


Friday, July 6, 2007

To post or not to post

With this blog I hope to take a stand against accepting populist views without subjecting them to the same level of criticism than that to which we tend to subject traditional views.

Sociological change is ever present.

What drives it?

Government policy, the media, popular opinion … ?

One observes ideas taking root in populist thinking, gaining strength and growing to perhaps have massive impact on our lives. It becomes unacceptable to voice contrary opinions.

Examples include:

  • Feminism
  • Dry right market forces economics
  • Abortion
  • Women in the workforce - childcare
  • Atheism
  • Restriction on child play (at school and elsewhere) in the interests of safety
  • No fault divorce

I am not saying that there is no merit in some of these causes. Certainly I believe some to be misguided. All would have benefited from informed debate. As a result some may have been abandoned or at least modified. Informed debate of course goes beyond visiting a large number of web sites that essentially support one side of the argument. Interesting that so many sites discourage debate about their views, but seek comments that support their views. This blog encourages thoughtful debate in line with the rules for comments